Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Tag: Goal-setting (page 1 of 2)

What I Learned From One Year of Minimalism

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I didn’t quite make my monetary goal for the year, but I learned an incredible amount that was far more valuable. Here, I’ll share a few things I’ve learned by trying to reduce “stuff” and obligations this year.

#1 – Marie Kondo can help you get organized

If you really want to reduce clutter and get your life organized, the KonMari method, which Marie Kondo outlines in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, is, by far, the best method to use.

Her method is simple.

  1. Discard “stuff” by considering things by category (clothing, books, papers, etc), NOT by room. Ask yourself if each item sparks joy. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. You’re left with a household of things you truly love. I was surprised by how many things I used to have that I rather disliked.
  2. Organize completely. Don’t buy anything fancy, just organize using the storage room you have and maybe a couple of shoeboxes.

I have yet to make it to the “organize completely” phase, but I have been floored by how well the “discard” phase works. Of all of the methods I tried this year, I found Marie Kondo’s to be the most useful. Her book is a quick read and I highly recommend it.

#2 – Clean 10 minutes a day

Set a timer and see how much you can clean in just 10 minutes. Do it every day. This is the only way I can keep my house reasonably clean and it’s really painless. I can get a lot done in 10 minutes and when that timer goes off, I’m done. No guilt for anything left out, I can get that tomorrow because I know I’ll have another 10-minute opportunity then. Some days I get so much done that I’m motivated to continue – not because I have to – but because I want to. This habit gives me a fresh start to every day and it’s really easy.

#3 – Wait 30 days before you buy something

I’m not talking about cereal or deodorant. Go ahead and buy those when you need them. However, for items that you’ll use over and over again (that will persist long after you purchase them) give yourself a chance to think twice about them. The 30-day rule lets you consider other options or do some research. It also shows you how much you want an item. If you can’t stop thinking about it for 30 days, then it’ll probably be something you enjoy for a long time, so buy it.

#4 – Increase automatic savings when you get a promotion

If you get a 3% raise and you’re already sending 8% of your paycheck to your 401(k), increase the amount you save to 9-11% right away when you get a raise. You’ll still feel like you got a raise (unless you’re very disciplined and save the entire thing – kudos to you), but you’ll also painlessly increase your savings, which could mean an extra six figures or more when you retire.

#5 – Experience gifts are awesome

It turns out that wine, chocolate, trips, and my personal favorite, massages, have become my favorite things to give and receive. Experience gifts are consumable; things that people use up, so they don’t stay around the house. They make the best presents because they build memories instead of a stockpile of “stuff”. The Minimalist Mom has a great list of 90 clutter-free gifts for any occasion.

#6 – Don’t throw away anything that doesn’t belong to you

Even kids notice when something is missing. If anyone catches you in the act of discarding something that’s not yours, the hit to his or her trust is massive. It’s not worth it and eventually #7 happens.

#7 – Your family will start de-owning stuff on their own

I think my husband jumped on board shortly after I’d cleared off my side of the dresser for the first time since we bought it. It looked like the border between Haiti & the Dominican Republic.

Haiti & The Dominican Republic

Our dresser looked like this…only in our case the bare side was the best. Photo Credit: National Geographic

Our closet also became easier to use. Eventually I noticed that he’d gone through his massive T-shirt collection and had thrown a bunch away. He didn’t tell me he did it, but he did. Finally, we sat down and considered the family DVD collection together.

When you first start to de-own, it can be really hard to do it alone, knowing that the dent you’re making is only a fraction of the total family “stuff”. We’ve still got a ways to go, but I’ve noticed my family jumping on board, slowly but surely. Nathan has even mentioned (with a hint of gratitude that he may never admit to) how much cleaner certain rooms are now.

#8 – Time is your most precious resource

Seriously. Assuming you have basic necessities covered, nothing else matters (well, except your health). My new goal is focused on carving out more time for the things that matter (including health) because time debt is no longer something I’m willing to live with.

#9 – Shopping for groceries online is the best lifehack ever

I save 1-1.5 hours each week by shopping for groceries online and then picking them up at the store. I also save loads of money because I can easily see my total and kick things out of my cart. There are just so many very cool ways that shopping for groceries online makes my life easier. The link above to my online grocery-shopping manifesto is worth checking out if you’d like to try it. I lay out all the pros and cons.

#10 – Minimalism ruins the fun of shopping

I can’t just make an impulse purchase anymore. For example, if I’m shopping for clothes, I can’t just buy the first shirt I like. No, now there’s a little voice inside my head asking annoying questions like, “Is this well-made?” “Is this versatile?” “Does it look amazing on me?” It’s a great voice, but sometimes I wish I hadn’t swallowed the red pill and changed my life forever.

#11 – It is impossible to get kids to get rid of stuff

Many will tell you they’ve succeeded in getting their kids to give away their toys. I’ll believe it when I figure out a way that works with my kids.

#12 – One extracurricular activity per week per family member is more than enough

This rule helps us all minimize the craziness that comes with too many obligations. It keeps us (the parents) from turning into a shuttle service and it helps us all prioritize what activities we really want to be involved in. I’ve also found that constricting activities to weekdays is helpful. That leaves our weekends freed up to explore and go on Family Adventure Days. Alison has soccer, Maddie is in gymnastics, and I stay late at work one night a week for yoga. Perhaps this only works because our kids are so young, but the rule works for us right now.

#13 – Minimalism is a journey

At first, I naively thought I could organize my entire life and then sit back and reap the rewards. Then the junk mail showed up and our kids had birthdays and received a bunch of presents. Freeing yourself from your stuff only works as well as your system for ensuring new stuff doesn’t catch you offhand. Figure out how you’ll defend yourself before you get started and you’ll have an easier time sticking to your wonderful new excess-free world.

One Year of Minimalism

I find it funny that my list naturally came out to an “unlucky” 13 items because I feel so lucky to have stumbled upon this project for the last year. It’s changed how I think about the world and how I make decisions daily. I am, without a doubt, living a life closer to my dream life. I am excited to continue it with a new goal and I’m glad that you’ve been reading.

Share this post if you know someone who could benefit from it!

New Year, New Goal: Happy Anniversary to my Minimalist Project!

One year ago this week, I set out to achieve a goal:

By September 22, 2015, I will “earn” $25K by reducing spending, getting rid of things we don’t need, or earning a little extra doing something I love.

That date was last Tuesday, so how did I do against that goal?!

I earned $10,330.51!!

Do I feel bad about missing the larger $25K goal? Absolutely not. This has been one of the best, most enlightening projects I’ve ever done! I also realized halfway through that tying this journey to a dollar amount was a pretty terrible idea.

#1 Lesson Learned

Why? Because it’s not the money that matters, the real reason to embrace having less “stuff” is that it leads directly to having more time.

Time to spend with the people you love

Time to travel

Time to learn a new hobby

Time to try a new recipe

Time to relax

Time to read

Time to learn

Time to be you.

Time is the only thing that matters and this year I’ve given myself a lot more time.

How I Saved $10,000

I also ended up saving a substantial amount of money that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Who wouldn’t want an extra $10,000? That’s huge! Where did that come from?

  • $1288.67: We refinanced into a lower cost mortgage in March and since then have saved over $1000.
  • $4219.77: This is the amount we’ve saved simply by not buying extra stuff we don’t need for the house (furniture, knick knacks, etc). It’s amazing to see this amount consolidated into one number. That’s a lot of money that I’m happy I still have.
  • $1410: We paid off our car with our tax return and have been saving the extra funds.
  • $3412.07: This is miscellaneous savings. Extra funds from coming in under budget on groceries, bills, and other budget categories. We saved most of the money from raises we were lucky enough to get this year, I sold a few things, and saved all of the interest earned on various accounts.

If I’d had more motivation to make money, I also would have tried harder to sell some of the items we de-owned. I have a huge pile downstairs of the things I’ve earmarked through the KonMari Method. The only reason this stuff is still around is – quite frankly – because I’m being a bit lazy. However, I like to think of my laziness simply as prioritizing time spent with the kids in the evening over making progress on this goal. It will be donated or sold by the end of the year.

Stuff We're Getting Rid Of

Stuff We’re Getting Rid Of This Year

New Goal

I loved this project so much that, for the next year, I’ve decided to continue it, but with a slightly different goal:

Over the next year (by Sept 30, 2016), I will finish organizing using the KonMari Method and then concentrate on finding at least two hours a day to work toward long-term goals such as starting my own business and writing a book.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me and joined me in the past year! Especially my husband, Nathan, our two daughters and my friend, Jossie, who have all gone above and beyond in their support this year.

Here’s to another great year!

Make Your Password Your Goal (Quick Tip)

make your password your goalAre you forced to change your login password at work every 90 days? That annoying password that you dutifully type an average of 8 times a day could help you meet your New Year’s resolution and life goals.

I learned this tip from Mauricio Estrella, who wrote a viral blog post about how he used his passwords to change his life in big ways. He got over an ex-wife, saved for vacation, and quit smoking simply by using passwords that reminded him of his current goals.

Make Your Password Your Goal

Think about it. Each time you type your password, you say it silently in your head. It becomes so automatic that typing it and thinking about it is a semi-subconscious, frequent reminder of that thing that is your password.

In the past, when password change time arrived, I would quickly pick something big going on in my life, shorten it to 8-12 characters and add some numbers and symbols. When my youngest daughter was born, I typed M4d3l1n3 all day long and perhaps that was part of the reason I missed the real Madeline so much! I couldn’t get a break. Use that constant reminder to your advantage!

I’m currently using this trick to help me get to my $25K goal. I can’t say it’s actually pushed me to save the money, but I haven’t forgotten about it. Not one day goes by without me thinking about this project. Who can ignore the thing you type once an hour every single day? It’s a great trick.

November Food Challenge Accomplishments

My November Food Challenge was so fun, I wish it lasted longer. There is a lot more I had planned, but never got too, like finding more ways to eat healthier and diving into the The Minimalist Cooks Dinner: More Than 100 Recipes for Fast Weeknight Meals and Casual Entertaining. I never even cracked it open. Why? Because as I was organizing my existing recipes, I realized that I have more than enough delicious, easy recipes right now.  Plus, I just plain ran out of time and this wasn’t a high priority.  Realizing that you’ll never get to everything on your to do list and letting the lower priority things go takes practice and this project gives me a lot of practice.

There are a couple things I’m really happy I did accomplish during November’s food challenge:

  1. Analyzed and fixed my grocery budget (parts I, II, and III).  Ever since I cut back on meat and dairy, my weekly bills have come in an average of $20 under budget.
  2. Explored other ways and places to shop for groceries and realized that shopping online (which I was already doing) was the best option for me.
  3. Cut back on disposables, I use far fewer paper towels and switched one kid to cloth diapers this month!
  4. Revisited a couple of sane dieting methods and read up on the diabetic diet. I didn’t write about this, but I gave up sugar for most of November (something I do periodically because it makes me feel GREAT). Now, I usually drink water instead of soda when we go out to eat.
  5. Remembered a sneaky way to cook for two nights at a time and get people to eat reasonable portions.
  6. Took the time to be thankful. This was by far the blog post that made me happiest.
  7. Organized all my recipes (and shared some)!

As far as accomplishing my original goals goes, I give myself a B.

My four original goals

Original Food Month Challenge

I accomplished #1 & #4. I started work on #2 (I’m not being too hard on myself, because this is a lifelong process). For #3, I thought about eating out a bit and decided not to change anything.  We go out once a week as a family and try to stay under $25.  It’s a wonderful time for us to do something together and, while eating out less would be healthier and cheaper, this is a part of my life that I love and want to keep.

So, here’s to food and how wonderful it can make our lives.  In December, I’ll be concentrating on our monthly bills and how to reduce those.

November Challenge: Food

Food: Apple-picking at Stribling Orchard

Apple-picking at Stribling Orchard

Food is a constant challenge in our lives. I find that our family throws away a lot of good food, eats too many unhealthy meals, is constantly strapped when it comes to the grocery budget, and can’t seem to find amazing things to eat that don’t stress us out during the work week. There’s a lot of room for improvement and with Thanksgiving coming up this is a good time to become food minimalists.

I don’t mean to say that we’ll be eating the bare minimum or cheapest foods. I just want us to eat the right foods – something delicious and healthy – for the right price.

I have four main goals for the month of November:

  1. Figure out the best ways to grocery shop and stay under budget.
  2. Explore how to eat healthier foods.
  3. Determine whether we can continue to eat out, which has been one of our favorite family activities.
  4. Purge and categorize recipes so that we can more easily cook a variety of foods that don’t take a long time to make.

Along the way, I’ll post my favorite minimalist recipes (i.e. easy and healthy) and will explore how our diets affect our overall quality of life.

Just like the October Challenge, this should be a fun and eye-opening ride. Join me!

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